There are many pieces that make up a puzzle of a successful football program. Players, coaches, parents, and athletic department staff all play a part in the process. One often overlooked member of the overall team is the equipment manager. Responsible for ensuring that all player helmets, pads, and uniforms are up to par, equipment managers are crucial in the on-field success of a football program.
“I think people are starting to understand now in greater detail what it is that [equipment managers] do, said Sam Trusner, the national office manager for the Athletic Equipment Managers Association. “We don’t just wash towels and hand out shorts and T-shirts. The emphasis that everyone in football has on the safety of players has really brought to the forefront the importance of equipment fitting and maintenance, especially helmets.”
Trusner started his career in 1981 at Millikin University (Decatur, Illinois) as a student before working his way up through the ranks and becoming the assistant equipment manager at the University of Illinois in 1991. Over the course of his 30-plus years in the industry, he has seen the role of equipment manager evolve by leaps and bounds.
“When it comes to understanding safety in terms of what the players have on, no one knows that role better than we do,” Trusner said. “The trainers and coaches have other responsibilities. It’s our job to ensure that helmets fit correctly, that pads are still functional, and that everything equipment-wise is up-to-date. It’s our job to provide a safe playing environment for the athletes.”
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As football has become an almost year-round endeavor, so has the role of the equipment manager. During the season, it is their job to fit players correctly and maintaining that fit in addition to maintaining the condition of their helmets. At the end of the season, perhaps just as crucial of a role is played.
“At the end of the year, equipment managers have to assess the condition of the helmets to make sure they are still structurally safe and up to all the current standards,” Trusner said. “Equipment managers are in charge of reconditioning helmets and re-certifying them. We also have an important job in storing helmets and pads. If they aren’t properly stored over the summer months leading into fall practice, they can easily break down, and that puts players at risk and it also hurts the budget of the athletic department.”
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Equipment managers have become the experts in all things safety. Head coaches and athletic directors rely on them to provide guidance in the equipment and apparel they supply their players. To this end, equipment managers have become valuable assets and “secret weapons” that football programs rely on heavily.
“The best coaches that I ever worked with were the ones that understood the importance of the role that everyone, including the equipment managers, play in their programs,” Trusner explained. “If there is a rash of injuries to a certain area of the body among players, a good head coach will ask the input of their equipment manager on what they think could be the cause. I think realizing what you have in terms of the equipment manager and the asset they are makes all athletic programs better.”